Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Different Second Pass

1961.  2013 Nugan Estate - Alfredo Second Pass Shiraz (South Eastern Australia)

I'm a fan of Ripasso wines out of northern Italy but, every once in awhile, I run across a wine from a different country or region that uses the same concept of re-passing and re-fermenting a wine through the pomace (remaining skins) and yeast cells that are left over from another wine's fermentation. The concept endeavours to embolden the second wine, giving it a bolder texture and more complex flavour.

One site I saw referred to the Alfredo Second Pass as an "Australian Shiraz done Italian style." Being probably even a bigger fan of Aussie Shiraz, I was quick to grab for this bottle. There was a great hope that 1+1 might = 3.

I guess the big question are there even any Australian Shiraz wines that need to be emboldened and enlarged? The last decade has seen, if anything, a concerted effort on the part of Aussie winemakers to scale back the extravagance of their big Shiraz beasts. For me, it's a completely different story when it comes to Valpolicella. My first reaction to them is that they're usually a bit on the light side for me.

In any event, despite the big hopes, the Second Pass Shiraz didn't really pass the muster for me. At least, it didn't raise the bar at all. Granted, the nose burst out of the glass and was pure enjoyment. It's just that the wine on the palate simply came across as one of the many commercial wines that try to catch your eye nowadays. The added element of the Ripasso technique didn't seem to add any depth or nuance to an ordinary wine.

Don't get me wrong. We didn't have any problem finishing the bottle with dinner. It just didn't generate any "wows" or "we definitely need to pick this up again." Maybe my expectations were just a little too high.

It won't stop me from actively searching out more Ripassos.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Joy Oh Joie. Fireworks


Vancouver's fireworks show at English Bay are a long-standing summer tradition. Immensely popular with residents and tourists alike, crowds are regularly estimated to hit a half-million every evening - with some groups arriving up to eight hours in advance to ensure a good viewing spot. Indeed, years ago, the fireworks even provided a finale to Boo's and my engagement.

The unfortunate thing about the fireworks is that they're so popular and the crowds are so large that it can be a lengthy hassle getting home - especially on a school night. We were lucky on this Saturday night in that we were invited by the BC Wine Appreciation Society's resident poet laureate to join his little gathering 26 stories above English Bay. Boo and I have watched fireworks from all sorts of locales but this was by far the most outstanding. It was as if we were as close as you could get to the explosion of colour - and well worth the delay in getting to bed.

It seemed a no-brainer to me that fireworks would call for bubbles.

1960.  2014 JoieFarm - Plein de Vie Brut (Okanagan Valley)

Boo and I visited the brand spanking new tasting room that JoieFarm opened late this spring. Having left with a rather extensive assortment of their wines, we were happy to include a bottle of their first release of a sparkling wine. Plein de Vie (or "Full of Life") blends the traditional Champagne grapes - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier - that result in an intriguing, deep pink bubble. Bright with Jolly Rancher and Turkish Delight on the nose, I would have expected a Baby Duck sweetness to the wine. The palate was anything but though - a dryer, tarter taste of rhubarb and cranberry followed the bubbly-gum nose. Quite the unexpected contrast.

I haven't seen actual production numbers but I suspect that this first vintage saw a very limited bottling. The wine was only available at the Tasting Room and odds are it won't last long as it clocks in at a very reasonable $18.

Our BCWAS drinking buddies, Shelback and Chewbacca were also on the guest list; so we staked our claim on a prime viewing spot on the rooftop balcony and sipped away as we watched the crowds gather below and waited for the show. The bubble didn't last nearly long enough but that's where growlers and host cocktails come in handy.

The evening's show was orchestrated by China and it was stunning. They used colours and shapes that I'd certainly never seen before. There were even hearts and happy faces thrown in for good measure. The "oohs" and "aahs" were plentiful and well deserved.

We just have to hope to make next year's guest list.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Virtual Visit to the Veneto

As I've written previously in a couple of posts, I've come to know some of the wines Monte del Frá at the last so many Vancouver International Wine Festivals. If you attend the Festival Tasting Room (and its hundreds of wineries and wines), you may very well catch me this winery table as I inevitably check in to catch up with the winery's local reps, Ricardo and Lucila, and the winery's gracious owner, Marica Bonomo.

1959.  2012 Monte del Frá - Cà del Magro (Custoza Superiore DOC - Italy)

The Cà del Magro has found particular favour with local palates in that, in some ways, the wine mirrors some of BC's white blends. A blend of eight grapes, to my palate, this is definitely a case where the sum of the blends is far more interesting than the individual varietal wines. There's a richness that might be enhanced by the fact that some of the base wine is aged sûr lie (on its spent yeast cells that often adds depth and creaminess); yet, there's a freshness and fruitiness that I often don't find with the more commercial Italian whites I see in our market.

Different region. Different grapes. Similar refreshing - but with substance and flavour - sip.

While eight different grapes go into the final blend, Garanega provides the backbone of the blend at 40%. The balance is made from Trebbiano Toscano, Tocai Friulano, Cortese, Chardonnay, Riesling Italico, Malvasia and Incrocio Manzoni. This last grape seems to have escaped my Wine Century Club tally thus far. So I get to add this rare-ish variety in my stretch drive run to hit 200 different grapes. Incrocio Manzoni is apparently grown only in the province of Treviso in the Veneto region of northern Italy. The grape is primarily used in blends and is generally found to add a slight herbaceous tint to the wine. It can also add an aroma that is reminiscent of red and black fruit as the Cab Sauv grape is one of its parents (the Prosecco grape is the other component to the cross). There may have only been 418 acres of the grape planted in Italy in the 2000 agricultural census (according to Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes tome) but I'm glad to be able to add #195.

After this tasty sip, I'm thinking we'd best start working on a visit to the Veneto. Boo and I were lucky enough to spend an extended weekend in Venice some years back but we didn't get a chance to roam around the neighbouring areas and take in some of the wineries. That needs to be remedied.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Giro v.2015


As we head ever so quickly to this blog's goal of drinking our way through 2001 different bottles of wine, there are few events that I've added bottles from where the pace is as fast as it is at the annual Giro di Burnaby. The race is part of BC Superweek - a series of 8 races over 9 days throughout the Lower Mainland that has established itself as one of the premier stops on the North American cycling circuit. I'm especially lucky in the I happen to be able to see the Start/Finish Line from my desk at work - not to mention that our office has a rooftop deck that provides the perfect opportunity to get a bird's eye view of the race while being able to quaff back wine and beer and nibble away on BBQ.

I get a particular kick out of the fact that the V.I.P. section for the race is located across the street - on ground level - and they don't get half the overall view or nourishment during the race.

Surprisingly enough, I get nabbed to come up with the choices of wine for the race party. We regularly have two reds, two whites and two rosés but not even I can get through all of them and add them to The List. The Giro is, after all, held on a Thursday night - with work looming next morning - and there's that little thing about driving home once the winner has crossed the finish line.

1957.  2014 L'Ostal Cazes Rosé (Pays d'Oc IGP - France)

I knew nothing about this wine or winery when choosing the wines but I took a gamble on a BC government liquor store clerk's recommendation. She saw I was looking at the Rosé section and she advised me that this was a new wine that they'd brought in and that it was generating all sorts of positive response. I have to say that relying on a tip can obviously pay off because this was clearly a favourite for the warm summer's evening.

Domaine L'Ostal Cazes was only established in 2002; however, it has some rather storied pedigree behind it. Jean-Michel Cazes is the owner of Château Lynch-Bages - one of the Classed Growths of the Médoc in Bordeaux - and he was looking for an opportunity in the Languedoc region of the south of France. L'Ostal Cazes if the result and their Rosé is a 50/50 Grenache/Syrah blend that hits all the right notes of fruit, acidity and subtlety for watching the world race by.

1958.  2011 Masi Grandarella (Refosco Delle Venezie IGT - Italy)

The Giro's second wine for The List is - shall we say - a tad more substantial. Masi's Grandarella is a "Supervenetian" that is (according to the winery's website) a modern interpretation of Masi's specialty: the ancient technique of Appassimento." Appassimento is unique to the Valpolicella region, found close to Venice, and is the technique of drying or raisinating the grapes before pressing them so that the flavours of the resulting juice and wines are intensified.

The region's Amarones are the most famous of wines made in this tradition; however, regional regulations dictate the grapes that must be used in the production of Amarone and the variety used in this wine isn't one of them. Masi's Grandarella is made entirely from Refosco grapes - an old variety from the region that has seen a bit of a resurgence in popularity and attention in the last couple of decades. It's known to lend itself to big, powerful wines and the addition of the appassimento process only serves to accentuate that power in this wine.

It only seemed fitting to have a French and an Italian wine amongst the evening's choices. After all, who isn't aware of the French and the Italians love of bike racing and the evening can't get much more Italian in tone when the race is called the Giro - after the Giro d'Italia.

The 2001st bottle will have been long finished by the time next's year's Giro di Burnaby rolls around, but you know I'll still be there cheering on the races - glass in hand.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cowhorn Viognier

I attended my first Wine Bloggers Conference in 2012 in Portland, Oregon. Obviously, there was just a bit of Oregon wine being experienced there. Prior to that vinous exposure, I can't say that I knew much about Oregon wines at all. I was aware that Pinot Noir was a big thing there and I'd heard of the Willamette Valley but not a lot more and I certainly didn't know that it's pronounced "Willamette, dammit." We just don't see much in the way of Oregonian wines up here north of the 49th Parallel - maybe the odd commercial wine or something from one of the better known producers in one of the specialty wine shops. There's certainly not much in the way of small producers to be found in Vancouver though (especially with the often dramatic currency differences between the U.S. and Canadian dollars).

Accordingly, it was a great pleasure to learn of some Oregon wineries that I likely never would have discovered otherwise. Cowhorn was one of my favourite finds during the opening night tasting and I certainly don't think we'd find an intriguing producer like this up here. Indeed, Wine Enthusiast magazine has named Cowhorn one of five "Must-Try Northwest Wineries You've Never Heard of" and  Wine Enthusiast magazine has proclaimed it "a Southern Oregon cult producer." We have a hard enough time finding our own BC "cult" wines.

I, therefore, made a determined effort to visit Cowhorn when Boo and I took our road trip to San Francisco in 2013. Perhaps it's not too surprising that we made a number of winery stops on that trip - Willamette, Napa, Sonoma, Anderson - but the wineries of southern Oregon aren't nearly as well known or as conveniently located next to each other. Luckily, we found Cowhorn - tucked away in seemingly the middle of nowhere - just before they were about to lock up the front gate.

Unfortunately, we were well over our limit of wines that we could bring home with us duty-free across the border - not to mention that the car was completely packed to the hilt - but I had to grab at least a couple of wines, border consequences be damned. Seeing as how I'm in the last 50 wines of this Odyssey, I think it's only fitting that I add a new fave.

1956.  2011 Cowhorn Viognier (Applegate Valley - Oregon)

The first note that drew me to Cowhorn at the WBC12 tasting was that it had gone the biodynamic route. For those unfamiliar with "biodynamics," I sometimes refer to it as "organic farming on steroids with a touch of mysticism thrown in for good measure." Knowing that one of the tenets of biodynamic farming involves the burying of a cowhorn filled with manure so that applications can be prepared from the fermented contents, they had me at the name.

It didn't hurt that Cowhorn makes Rhône-style whites and reds. Being a Rhône Ranger - on the consumer side - it wasn't that hard of a sell. Of course, the wines spoke volumes as well.

In 2002, Bill and Barbara Steele purchased a neglected 117-acre farm that's in the Siskiyou Mountains, not far from the Oregon/California border, and inherited a property awash in "20-foot tall blackberries, weeds and squatters." They then studied the lands and determined that they could grow grapes on the lands that were an old river bed. The rockiness of the property reminded them of the soils in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Rhône and they slowly began transforming the land. Their first vintages saw them sell a whopping 40 cases in 2008. By the time we visited them in 2013, they were up to between 1700 and 2000 cases. Ultimately, they'd like to reach 3000 cases annually.

The 2011 vintage only saw 150 cases of Viognier produced and it's a full, creamy wine. Some of the richness results from being aged in oak (15% new) but Bill tries to let the fruit - and the land - talk as much as it can and he uses natural yeasts and adds minimal sulphites. After all, what's the sense in working so hard to bring the land to life if you turn around and mask the flavours of the wine.

The Cowhorn property also produces asparagus, cherries, artichokes and hazelnuts inoculated with Périgord black truffle among its crops. Bill told Boo and I that he's referred to as "Mr. Asparagus" at the county fair.

I certainly hope that we get another chance to visit.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Rosy Zweigelt

1955.  2012 Upper Bench Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

When the BC Wine Appreciation Society's annual Fall Bus Tour stopped in at Upper Bench Estate Winery in 2013, Gavin and Shana Miller were finally feeling that they were reaching a point of establishment after their acquisition of the winery and vineyard back in 2011. They'd acquired the old Stonehill winery from the bankruptcy receiver. and Gavin told our assembled crew that he was glad for the opportunity to put all his years in the business - including winemaking stints at heavyweights Poplar Grove and Painted Rock - into his own vision. He added, however, that buying an existing winery means that, in part, you've inherited someone else's dreams and their goals may have been quite different from your own.

One of his early goals was to reduce the number of SKU's that they'd inherited and that was going to involve making some decisions on what to do with certain varieties that had been planted by the old owners - varieties like Zweigelt, not exactly the best-known or most highly marketable grape in the Okanagan Valley.

One use Gavin found for the Zweigelt was 332 cases of Rosé. Seeing as how Upper Bench also produced a varietal Zweigelt red, I'm thinking this Rosé might have been a saignée bleed from the juice pressed to make the red wine. In any event, as you can see, this is a brightly hued Rosé. While the palate wasn't nearly as bold as the colour might indicate, there was still red fruit accompanied by a good dose of acidity.

I'm not sure if the winery will continue to grow Zweigelt. I read in one article that Gavin was going to graft Cab Sauv onto the old Zweigelt vines. I don't know if he kept any of the Austrian grape around or not.

While Zweigelt may not be everyone's cup of tea, serving it up as a Rosé, like this, on a hot summer's day won't likely get you into any trouble (particularly if you happen to have some of Shana's Upper Bench cheeses to go along with it).

Sunday, July 12, 2015

An Okanagan Three-Way

Some days just seem to require an extra boost to them - more succour than even a couple glasses of wine can provide. Today was one of those days. As such, Boo and I thought we'd go the route of an Okanagan three-way: a "go to" red wine, a fruit dessert wine and a craft vodka.

1953.  2012 Elephant Island Apricot (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

Okanagan Spirits Vodka

Grade 1 arithmetic aside, there are times when 1 + 1 can = 3. This might just be one of those occasions. We're long time fans of Elephant Island's Apricot dessert wine. If you're partial to apricots, this wine, on its own, just thrills you with the sweet, ripe apricot flavour heeled with a good brace of acidity. However, I remember - from many years ago - when we bought our first bottle, the last comment from the winery staffer behind the tasting bar was that the Apricot wine makes a great addition to a Vodka martini. Two parts Vodka, one part Apricot wine. Jackpot.

That's where the Okanagan Spirits Vodka comes into play tonight.

OK Spirits has been around for just over a decade now. Originally established in Vernon in 2004, they added a second location in Kelowna at the end of 2011. Having started with Liqueurs and Fruit Brandies, their "harvest-to-flask" philosophy of 100% locally grown fruits and grains has expanded to include Vodka, Gin, Whisky, Grappa, Aquavit and Absinthe. I can attest to the fact that it's difficult to leave their tasting room without a full shopping cart for the bar at home.

Their success at grasping the whole distillery concept is well substantiated as well. Okanagan Spirits was named "Distillery of the Year" at both the 2013 and 2015 World Spirits Awards. 2013 also saw them named "North America's only World Class rated distillery, a distinction [they] still hold proudly today."

Unflavoured Vodka isn't known for flavour, but this OK Spirits version was made from 100% pears and I noted a distinct fruitiness to the base liquor. Paired with the Apricot wine, we were well on our way to getting over the day's toils.

1954.  2008 Sandhill - Small Lots Sandhill Estate Vineyard Block C8 Merlot (Okanagan Valley VQA) 

Merlot may be the most highly planted red grape in the Okanagan but not many wineries or winemakers can work their magic on the grape like Sandhill winemaker, Howard Soon, does with this Small Lots, single vineyard, single block beauty. I first ran across this bottle at the 2011 Vancouver International Wine Festival. It can be hard enough to get your hands on many of Howard's Small Lots wines but, with a production of only 119 cases in 2008, the Festival was likely going to be my only chance to grab me some.

Even with a few year's ageing, it's a big wine with plenty of dark, ripe fruit and a lush nose. This is not a Merlot that Myles from Sideways (you remember him) - or anyone else - should sneer at.

It may have been a rough day but I think our little Okanagan three-way smoothed out some of the edges.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

CedarCreek Platinum

Since we went Platinum Bench yesterday, why not go Platinum Block tonight? Why not, indeed. 

The thing is, of course, that these "Platinums" don't really have anything to do with each other except that they're both from the Okanagan Valley - albeit opposite ends of the valley. Platinum Bench is a fairly new winery down by Oliver and Osoyoos on Black Sage Bench while CedarCreek is one of the early pioneers in the Valley and is up by Kelowna.

But, I suppose it's all in the segue between posts (as he laughs to himself, "no way I want to have to worry about transitioning that into the blog as well.")

1952.  2012 CedarCreek Platinum "Block 3" Riesling (Okanagan Valley VQA)

CedarCreek's premium line of wines is labeled under the Platinum label and this single block Riesling definitely merits the designation. I don't usually make it as far north as Kelowna when we make it to the Okanagan. As a result, I haven't seen much of this Riesling as it's primarily sold out of the winery cellar door. The 2014 BC Wine Appreciation Bus Tour visited Kelowna and Lake Country wineries and "dropped in" on the folks at CedarCreek as part of the tour. I made sure that I picked up a few bottles.

The bottle's back label calls this a "Mosel-by-way-of-the-Okanagan" Riesling. It's got a beautiful acidity racing through the flavour profile with lifted lime but it's no so shockingly acidic that you can't appreciate the flavours. At only 8% alcohol, it's also not going to knock you down or out. Too bad there were only 300 cases made in the 2012 vintage.

As I was prepping this post, I remembered that our CedarCreek visit saw us taking a late afternoon tour through the Pinot Noir and Riesling vineyards where we were treated to some hors d'oeuvres and, of all things, wine as we watched the sun set over Lake Okanagan. I "pulled out" some shots from that tour to show the magic of the moment. A wine can't help but taste great in circumstances like that, but I'm pleased to say that the Block 3 worked just as well for me at home as it did in the vineyard.

I think I might need to make it up to Kelowna a little more often.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Platinum Bench

Having just added a Rosé to The List, why not go for another. After all, doesn't the phrase go "One good Rosé deserves another?"

Well, my literary acumen may be somewhat suspect but, if that phrase is off, how about addressing, "A Rosé is a Rosé is a Rosé."

Okay, agreed, Gertrude Stein didn't have the accent on her Rose. But, it's just as well because, nowadays, Rosé wines go all over the map - dead dry, fruity, delicate, robust. You name a preference, you can likely find it quite easily. One Rosé is definitely not guaranteed to be the same as the last one you tried. As was the case here.

1951.  2014 Platinum Bench Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Platinum Bench is still a relatively new find for me. The winery opened its doors in June 2012 but my first conscious recollection of them was last year during the Half Corked Half Marathon. While a good portion of the race followed the Black Sage Bench, the course didn't run by or through Platinum Bench itself. The winery did, however, have one of the water (cum wine) stations in the second half of the race. What stood out for me at their table was the specialty bread they served along with the wine. That bread hit the spot and definitely required a visit to the winery the next day.

And a repeat visit after this year's run at the end of May. This Merlot and Gamay Noir-based Rosé was one of the treats that came home with us.

Comparing the glass of Platinum Bench to the Poplar Grove Rosé from the other day, I think you could fairly say that the two wineries take a somewhat different approach to their Rosé production. The deeper hues in the Platinum Bench were supported by bolder fruit flavours and bigger body - not to mention it clocked in at 14.9% alcohol, rather a robust level for most BC Rosés.

And the beauty of producing Rosé is that neither winery is "right" in its approach. Both wines suited my palate just fine and were equally approachable.

I just wonder what Gertrude Stein would have said. Maybe she didn't drink Rosé.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Canada Day on the Block


In the six-plus years that I've been blogging this Wine Odyssey, there are a number of events and people that show up on a regular basis. Today's post combines both annual event and bona fide drinking buddies. The annual July 1 - Canada Day BBQ hasn't been going on for as long as our Holiday Dine Around, but I think it's safe to say that most of the hood pens the BBQ into their calendar as soon as the new year's pages are opened.

Somewhat surprising - when you considered the copious amounts of booze that arrives at the party - I've only got one bottle to add to The List this year. Part of the reason for that is that we do live in Yeast Van (a new moniker for East Van) and all its craft breweries. There was a healthy assortment of growlers in attendance. Plus, as I'll note later, there was a special guest appearance this year that resulted in our polishing off more tequila than I've seen since university days.

Good thing the one wine was a good one.

1950.  2014 Poplar Grove - Blanc de Noirs Rosé (Okanagan Valley VQA)

Funny, but ever since Boo and I joined the Poplar Grove Wine Club, our cellar has seen a slight proliferation in the number of Poplar Grove wines to be found. Admittedly, we joined the Club largely for the winery's robust reds but we're learning not to ignore the whites and this rosé either.

For the last so many years, I've found myself gravitating to more and more Rosé wines. I'm liking them year round as a great meeting ground between white and red but I find them particularly tasty on hot summer days. Poplar Grove's version is a traditional saignée where, after crush, the juice is left on the skins for around three hours before it is "bled" off from the tank. This practice not only results in a Rosé wine but it also builds on the body and profile of the wine this Rosé juice was taken from.

The wine's called a Blanc de Noirs (or White from Reds) as it is predominantly Malbec (41%), Merlot (24%) and Syrah (19%).  I don't know what the French would have to say about calling the wine a Blanc de Noirs when there's a healthy dose of Viognier (16%), a white grape, included in the blend.

As if I care.

The first vintage of Poplar Grove's Blanc de Noirs was in 2011 and, they made so little of it, it sold out in a matter of weeks. They've looked to increase production in subsequent years but it's still subject to  limited availability. Luckily, it looks like we might have a little more reliable handle on a source.

el Jimador Tequila Roposado (Mexico) (Guest Alcohol)

The reason for our extraordinary use (or misuse) of Tequila was the super slushy blender that I borrowed for the day.  My brother-in-law, Big Trucker, won a "Man Cave" at a Super Bowl Party earlier in the year and the blender was part of the prize package. It promised vast quantities of perfectly blended margaritas with the flick of a switch. Margaritas and Tequila may sound more appropriate for a Cinqo de Mayo celebration than a Canada Day BBQ but, you know, boys and their toys.

We decided that Mango Margaritas would be prove a particularly tasty means of trying out the blender. I think the fact that I only needed to open one bottle of wine is an indication of just how the margaritas were received (over and over again).

Good thing this blog revolve around reviewing kitchen equipment. I don't know that the blender was the be all and end all of blenders - event thought the margaritas were tasty. In some ways, I think it's easier to just make the old fashioned way in a regular blender.

Next year, our Canada Day party may just revert to good old Canadian wine and East Side suds.